US U-20s look to flex muscles in Panama match

Rongen's men fine-tune before quarters vs. Honduras or Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – When the United States meet Panama on Saturday in their second match of the U-20 CONCACAF Championship (6 pm ET, concacaf.com), they will already be through to the quarterfinals. Rather than focusing on a result, the Americans will look to improve upon the dominating performance they turned in during their first game.

"It's wonderful to see the chemistry that we had [vs. Suriname] and hopefully we can continue it throughout the rest of the tournament," left back Greg Garza said after the Americans' 4-0 opening victory in the tournament earlier this week.

Due to the format of the CONCACAF Championship, both the US and their opponents on Saturday are through to the quarterfinals. A US victory or tie will give them the top spot in Group B, but either way they will meet either Honduras or Guatemala.

Both the USA and Panama dispatched Suriname with ease (Panama piled on with a 3-0 win). Thomas Rongen's side has the advantage of three days of rest, while José Alfredo's squad jumps back into the fray with only 24 hours to get their legs back. The Americans are a better, deeper team, and they should have enough to prevail.

United States

After the US walked over Suriname, Rongen said he would adjust his lineup based on Panama's result against the South American nation. With three days rest, however, he won't make too many changes at the start. Since winning is not a priority – both Honduras and Guatemala present a formidable challenge – the coach will simply seek to keep his charges available for the quarterfinal. That means Amobi Okugo and Moises Orozco, who both picked up cautions in the first match, will miss out against Los Canaleros.

Dillon Powers, who continues to recover from an injury, should see his first time of the tournament in the center of the field. The US deployed D.C. United rookie Perry Kitchen in the midfield late against Suriname with Duke's Sebastien Ibeagha taking over next to Gale Agbossoumonde on the back line. That formation should get another look, although probably not at the outset. Eder Arreola could see time, giving Joe Gyau or Bobby Wood a spell on the wing.

Rongen respects Panama, saying, "The game has maybe grown more rapidly there than other countries in Central America. They have a good combination of technical ability and some athletic ability." But given the format of the tournament, it's hard not to look past Saturday's opponent and on to potential matchups in the vital quarterfinal fixture.

Panama

Los Canaleros qualified for the U-20 World Cup in 2003, 2005 and 2007, but failed to reach the CONCACAF final in 2009. This tournament represents a chance for the Central American country to return to the bigt stage. Alfredo's side initially struggled to gain possession against Suriname, but dominated once they did. Cecilio Waterman netted three goals – although one, perhaps two, should have been saved – and will bother the American back line if they let him.

Fullbacks Josué Flores and Francisco Vence spent plenty of time in the attacking half against Suriname, but will presumably have to stay home more often against an American side that will have the majority of possession. Center back and captain Harold Cummings cuts an imposing figure in the middle of the defense and is one of the few players in the tournament who is strong enough to deal with American target man Conor Doyle.

The match represents a chance for Panama to build confidence going into their quarterfinal showdown with a Central American power. A good showing against the US will allow them to build on something before the do-or-die on April 6.

Key Players

United States: Perry Kitchen

It's up to the American's best leader and communicator to keep his team focused on the goal: getting a result without any extracurricular activities, injuries or other problems that would hurt the squad for the quarterfinal game.

Panama: Javier Caicedo

Waterman was the offensive threat against Suriname, but the winger proved his ability to find seams and make dangerous runs. While his efforts weren't rewarded, the American fullbacks need to keep an eye on the CD Plaza Amador attacker or he could find a goal.

US Projected Starting XI

Zac MacMath; Moises Hernandez, Gale Agbossoumonde, Perry Kitchen, Zarek Valentin; Dillon Powers, Sebastian Lletget, Kelyn Rowe, Bobby Wood, Conor Doyle, Joe Gyau

Panama Projected Starting XI

Kevin Melgar; Josué Flores, Edward Benítez, Harold Cummings, Francisco Vence, Paul Cordero, Manuel Vargas, Roberto Chen, Javier Caicedo, Josimar Gómez, Cecilio Waterman

Final Analysis

The Americans looked like a team that knew themselves against Suriname. Another game will only help them develop further as they look toward next week and making a deep run during the summer's World Cup. US 2, Panama 0.

Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.

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